copper wires
Copper theft and other metal theft is still a huge problem nationwide. Image from Wikimedia Commons.

A crime that isn’t as widely discussed as others is metal theft, or theft of metals worth a good amount of money by weight. The number of thieves absconding with ill-gotten copper and other metals has been on the rise for the past few years.

Couple funding wedding with stolen copper

According to CBS, a Pennsylvania couple were recently arrested for stealing copper and selling it to scrapyards to fund their wedding. Joseph Russell and April Cater of Eastvale, Pa., are accused of criminal mischief, criminal conspiracy and theft for cutting down 18 utility poles and taking more than $7,000 in transformer ground wires. The estimated cost of repair was $400 for each of the 18 poles they knocked down.

In 2008, the The Federal Bureau of Investigation warned copper theft posed a threat to the nation’s power, transportation and communications infrastructures. The FBI also noted that copper and other metal theft had been rising since at least 2006.

Metal theft will drive you mad

According to a February article in the New York Times, the price of metals has gone up over the past few years. Copper was trading for $1.25 per pound in 2009 and about $4 per pound in February. According to Bloomberg, the price of copper on the New York Mercantile Exchange was $3.4275 per pound on the morning of Sept. 27.

The N.Y.Times also pointed out that the prices of other metals often stolen and sold for scrap are rising as well. Palladium was more than $800 per ounce; platinum was going for $1,800 per ounce; and rhodium was priced at $2,400 per ounce in February. Those metals are contained in catalytic converters, part of the exhaust system of cars.

Catalytic converters can net several hundred dollars from scrap yards. According to USA Today, installation of a new catalytic converter can run up to $2,000. Stolen converters are hard to spot, as some thieves will sell multiple converters at a time, some stolen and some not.

Common problem

Car and motorcoach dealership owner Bobby Easter, of Martinsville, Va., said in the Martinsville Bulletin he’s lost $1.2 million to metal thieves in recent years. Copper thieves recently struck a school in Pensacola, Fla., according to, stripping about $10,000 worth of copper from air conditioning units at Weis Elementary School. A copper theft ring was recently broken up in Pennsylvania, according to the Centre Daily Times. Four men were charged recently with stealing $51,972 in copper from more than a dozen businesses since April of 2010.

The problem isn’t isolated to the United States. A judge in New Zealand recently sentenced a copper thief to 120 hours of community service and ordered him to pay NZ $600 to a scrap metal yard in Greymouth, according to the Otago Daily Times. Judge Lindsay Moore pondered how “these idiots” didn’t electrocute themselves, dead-panning that accidental electrocution “would be a short end to the matter.”



Federal Bureau of Investigation:

New York Times:


USA Today:

Martinsville Bulletin:


Centre Daily Times:

Otago Daily Times:

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